This article is being written in 2010. You'll be reading it in 2011. How awfully time-bending that thought is. You don't even need a DeLorean to go back into the past to read my words, thanks to the wonders of technology. Ignore the 11 bit at the end of your calendar for the moment, this is the last indie slash freeware bit of the previous year that I'll be producing for my overlords here at Dealspwn.
I'd like to say it'll be a cracker, but as you can imagine, even the eager beavers in indie land have to take a break from working on their digital dams for a little while over the festive period. There'll be a veritable orgasmic spurt of new material erupting from the scene at the start of 2011, but for now we're left with just a few crappy Metroid rip-offs and some kooky puzzlers.
Thankfully, four nifty little numbers did find their way onto our screens, but I know you usually demand five tiddlers to read about around these parts. Well, tough, you're getting four and a little reminiscence about previous weeks' efforts that you might have missed. That's your lot, then I'm going to go get whammed at a New Year's do. In the past. Cue Twilight Zone wiggly lines.
First to strut its festive stuff is a nice cheerful number called City of Doom. While you were chugging down brandy and biting into dry turkey breast, the protagonist of CoD (see what I di... oh, never mind) has been desperately trying to find out why his world is being plagued by loathsome insectoid creatures.
A simple soul charged with delivering his world (or tower block) from evil, you're given an automatic weapon and some very sticky gloves in order to ascend the building, eliminating bugs as you go.
It's quite short, but it's surprisingly good fun. Looking a bit like an old Game Boy title with its colour scheme, it only becomes frustrating when you mix up the X and C keys and climb when you should be firing. Hold X and use the arrow keys to move around, hold C and use the arrow keys to direct your fire. Simple, yet still quite easy to bugger up.
CoD is also quite forgiving, providing you with plenty of lives and the prospect of recovering extra ones on numerous occasions. It's not necessarily easy, but you won't be soiling your pants in protest at how stupidly difficult it is either. It's also only 4 megs to download, so you've got no excuse not to give it a pop.
Now we move on to a game about descending through the levels of a tower rather than climbing, human fly-style, up the outside. 40 Stories [sic] is about a woman named Anita who just wants to get out of her work building, but naturally she's stuck in this game and it's much harder than it should be. There's no easy “get in elevator, go down to the ground floor, exit” option here.
Instead, she has to solve puzzles, avoid obstacles and, judging by the promo picture, avoid goateed, overweight fools who are desperate to show her the meaning of this Earth word love.
As an Unreal Engine 3 game, it's quite hefty for a freeware game. Weighing in at 300 megs, it's not one for the crappy work PC you might be using to read this, so wait until you get home to try it out. Unless you work in a 40 story building, in which case you might be getting some real life practice in.
Anyway, wherever you play it, Anita is constantly forced to interact with the aforementioned office nerd/lecherous slob all the time, who acts as a sort of guide at first, telling you what you need to do to complete the level.
As you progress, the levels get more and more challenging, until you're having to deal with multiple versions of yourself while avoiding acid pits, spikes and all sorts of other trials and tribulations. It gets tough quickly and can be frustrating.
However, it does pose some interesting problems and the design of the levels is generally more than adequate. The main question isn't necessarily how good the game is though (it's good) but more are you willing to take the time to download it when, say, the next game coming up is 1/300th of the size and offers a similar experience? Your call.
With that in mind, next up onto the George Foreman Reviewing Grill is a Japanese number called PlaMai, featuring a scientist with some fetching eye wear attempting to reach the end of the room he's trapped. There's probably just a door he needs to open, but why do that if you can use the miracles of science (!) and magnetism (double !) to make yourself look all smart and stuff?
Each of this scientist's lab rooms contain various batteries and electric things that expel some kind of magnetic force. It's your task to use the batteries, which are magnetically charged, to propel yourself in various directions by moving close to an object with the same polarity. If he's holding a battery with the opposite polarity as an object, he'll be attracted to it, and so on.
It's a little fiddly to start with and as everything's in Japanese, it's not immediately apparent what keys do what, but the first level is easy enough to allow you to experiment a little and get used to the controls when you do figure them out.
As you progress through the 20 puzzle rooms, the challenges obviously get more, er, challenging, and you'll often have to reset the puzzles because you've got yourself stuck somewhere. It's also quite easy to move too far in one direction, as movement controls are a little sticky and/or too sensitive at times.
Otherwise, it's a perfectly charming little puzzler that's only a meg in size. Oh, and I just noticed that the scientist seems to have a duck or something following him around. Strange.
So the last game of the year is all backwards. SuteF by Ted Lauterbach involves a strange blue creature who exists in the Abyss. It's not a nice place, as indicated by the name. It's room-based and you need to get to the exit every time, which seems to be a common theme this week.
Controls seem to be a bit sluggish at times, but once you realise you're not meant to be playing it as a platform game, they work quite well. Each level wraps around itself, so if you go out the top, you come back via the bottom. You'll need to know this to solve a lot of the puzzles.
You also have a grappling hook device that you can use to drag yourself to distant blocks along a horizontal axis, plus there are various gravity switching plates that can alter your perspective.
It's another interesting little puzzler and is equally as interesting as the others, providing an adequate challenge without ever appearing to be too obtuse. It'd be nice if it didn't default to full screen, but that's a minor quibble.
Right, that's it for 2010. I've written 13 of these columns now, hope you've been enjoying them. I've seen a lot of very interesting ideas, some that have been far better in theory than execution, but also some that have surprised me with their quality. It seems to definitely be true in indie circles that you can't judge a digital book by its electronic cover and so some of the best games I've enjoyed over the past few months have looked downright terrible on first glance.
In typical end of year style then, let's do some perfunctory awards. If I had to pick a 'best game' that I've covered this year for Dealspwn, it'd have to be... well, actually, I don't know. It's very difficult to actually pick one. Hmm, right, you're putting me under pressure now. Right, the Best of the Best is Octodad, even if it wasn't the one I praised the most when I initially looked at it.
Looking back on all the games I've written about, it just sticks out the most as being the one that could be made into a 'proper' game the most. A bit more time, lots more polish and there could genuinely be a really interesting game there, if the controls were tightened up a bit.
Having said that, there are loads of good 'uns in past Free Play columns that deserve honourable mentions, like Escape, Chaos Invaders, Paper Venture, Radical Fishing, One Chance and Haxball, to name but a few.
Much easier to select is the worst game of the year. That is definitely ...But That Was Yesterday, which enraged me a great deal with its ludicrously pretentious nature and the fact it took this so far, I almost got motion sickness playing the stupid swing section. It doesn't teach you anything about life, it doesn't 'touch you' or any of that nonsense, it just makes you want to throw up. And not just because of the motion sickness issue.
Always good to end the year on a bitter, raging note, isn't it?